VIETNAM: Formaldehyde in rice noodles prompts wide-scale food scare

The discovery that many rice noodle producers have been adding formaldehyde to their products in order to lengthen shelf life has prompted government officials to hold an emergency meeting.

According to the Saigon Times Daily, restaurants serving the Vietnamese ‘national dish’ pho have seen “a staggering drop in customers”. Until the food scare, which erupted in December following inspections by Ho Chin Minh City’s Preventive Health Centre, the rice noodle-based dish was a staple in the daily diet of many.

The inspections in Ho Chi Minh City were prompted by the action of an employee of one rice noodle producer who was concerned about her employers’ use of an unknown chemical. Formaldehyde is banned for use as a food preservative. Long-term health effects from exposure to the chemical include liver, nerve and kidney damage. The chemical is used to preserve products such as cosmetics and to embalm bodies or preserve body parts for medical purposes.

Thus far, many rice noodle producers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have been found to have used formaldehyde and several have been closed down as a result. An emergency meeting of Vietnam’s ministries of Health and Trade has led to the imposition of a 1 March deadline for nationwide inspections of rice noodle and rice pancake producers.

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